Cody Sifford (Navajo) (at left) and Clarence Smith (Blackfeet), both 2014 NARA TPP summer interns, placed 2nd and 1st respectively for graduate student posters at the 2014 American Indian Science & Engineering Society (AISES) conference.
Cody Sifford (Navajo) (at left) and Clarence Smith (Blackfeet), both 2014 NARA TPP summer interns, placed 2nd and 1st respectively for graduate student posters at the 2014 American Indian Science & Engineering Society (AISES) conference.










NARA’s Tribal Projects Program (TPP) contributes to multiple NARA project goals. First, it provides relevant research experience to Native American college students. Second, the technical assistance efforts are designed collaboratively with the tribe to assess economic opportunities related to tribally sourced woody biomass. At its core, this program is establishing a national model for collaborative research between university partners and tribal communities so that tribes have the people and information needed to participate in the emerging bioenergy marketplace in a manner that meets their environmental, cultural and economic needs.

Educational opportunities

Thirty-nine percent of Native American students who started college in 2005 graduated. This graduation rate is significantly lower than the 60% of white students who graduated during the same time period (Knapp, Kelly-Reid, and Grinder, 2012). To help make up this deficiency, NARA funds efforts to recruit and retain Native American students at the college level.

NARA’s TPP program is a graduate level program that also connects graduate students with undergraduates to ensure a strong pipeline of students for graduate education. The program funds a mix of summer internships and graduate degrees. To date, the TPP program has supported seven undergraduate and seven graduate students. Seven students in the TPP program will have completed their undergraduate or graduate degrees by December 2014; 6 of them tribal scholars.

“We just came out of a great summer where six interns with tribal affiliation worked on NARA TPP projects, across the Northwest” said Laurel James, program manager for the NARA Tribal Partnership programs. “The number of graduate students with a tribal affiliation is low, across all disciplines and NARA is helping increase those numbers.”

Three TPP undergraduate interns attended the Salish Kootenai College (SKC), a NARA affiliate organization, while a fourth student evolved out of Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI). SKC works with NARA to funnel tribal students to opportunities like TPP and the NARA SURE program.

Here is a list of some of the tribal students and a brief description of their work:

Breanna Gervais (Penobscot) attends Portland State University as an undergraduate. Her primary task for the NARA TPP program was to explore the regional tribal assets related to biomass infrastructure and development. Her report formed the basis for a 35-page report that documents biomass interest and operations by region and tribe. She shared her work at the 38th Annual National Indian Timber Symposium in June 2014 at Coeur d’Alene. Breanna also worked with the NARA Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) team to develop a LCA for woody feedstock collected from Tribal forests. “My professional experiences for the past few years have been based around traditional ecological knowledge, biomass and forestry policy”, says Breanna, “this project has allowed me to stay connected to the Native American natural resource community in a research capacity.” Breanna is a member of the Penobscot Nation.

Burdette Birdinground (Crow) recently completed his bachelor’s degree in environmental science at Salish Kootenai College and now attends the University of Washington as a graduate student in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. His graduate work is targeted towards improving prediction models for forest growth. He will continue to contribute to NARA by developing models to gage the amount of residual biomass generated from federal lands that are under stewardship agreements with the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes. Burdette is a member of the Crow Tribe.

Cody Sifford (Navajo) obtained a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Salish Kootenai College and now attends the University of Washington as a graduate student in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. His work investigates air pollution associated with slash pile burning. The results from his work inform forest management departments about the amount of smoke particulates reaching communities. Cody recently attended the 2014 American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) conference in Orlando Florida to present his research co-sponsored by NARA and his USDA National Needs Fellowship and he placed 2nd in the graduate student poster category. Cody is a member of the Navajo Nation.

View Cody’s poster Developing an Impact Assessment of Local Air Quality as a Result of Biomass Burns.

Shawn Defrance (CSKT) completed his bachelor’s degree in forest resources at Salish Kootenai College. His work measures the effectiveness of prescribed burn treatments. This data will network with multiple tribal agencies and allow managers to share and analyze the effectiveness of their management practices to reduce catastrophic fire events. Shawn is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

Calvin Silas (Navajo) completed his AAS in pre-engineering at Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), a tribal college in Albuquerque, NM. Calvin joined NARA after graduating from SIPI and after receiving Academic All-American honors from the Governor of the State of New Mexico. That award provided Calvin a fellowship that is allowing him to continue to work towards his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at New Mexico State University (NMSU).   Initially, Calvin was a NARA SURE intern at Washington State University (WSU). He then received additional training in mechanical engineering as a part of the TPP at the University of Washington (UW). Calvin has been invited to return as a summer intern at either WSU or UW in 2015.  Calvin is a member of the Navajo Nation.

View Calvin’s poster Nanocellulose reinforcement for bio-based phenolic thermo-responsive resins

Partnerships with tribal landowners

The NARA TPP works to benefit Pacific Northwest tribes by collaborating to define, research, and assess a technical problem that is deemed a tribal priority for ecologic or economic development purposes.

The top tribal timber landowners in the Pacific Northwest are the Colville (660,000 acres), Yakama (449,000 acres), Salish and Kootenai (300,000 acres), Warm Springs (256,000 acres) and Quinault (174,000). The NARA TPP recently completed a project with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT). After a period of review and comment, a final report was completed and sent to the Tribe in June 2014. The TPP’s work helped define the total amount of biomass available for bioenergy use based upon the Tribe’s 10-year management plan. The CSKT used TPP project work as a basis for the next level of biomass assessment and engineering combined heat and power design work funded through a major DOE Tribal Energy Program grant.

View Biomass Supply Estimates for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Based on Harvest Planning and Management Goals

A second project has been initiated that will evaluate the forest inventories and management in federal lands that are adjacent to the CSKT reservation. Federal policy authorizes tribes to carry out sound forest management on adjacent federal lands as a way to protect their reservation forestlands (Tribal Forest Protection Act). Stewardship contracting is the financial mechanism used for this program. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are one of the few Indian Nations with active stewardship contracts for the adjacent federal forestlands. How these stewardship contracts impact the health of the CSKT lands is unknown. This work will offer a regional assessment of biomass availability within the Tribes’ hazardous fuel corridor, and will explore the intersection of competing federal laws on the value of biomass from the reservation vs. biomass from the adjacent federal lands.

A third project is exploring the potential environmental impact of using distributed sugar depots as intermediate processors for a regional biofuel supply chain. An often overlooked emission source in biofuel processing comes from the extractive compounds, which account for nearly 10% of the dry mass of Douglas-fir. This program evaluates a fairly comprehensive inventory of Douglas-fir extractives and their potential chemical conversion when processed using mild bisulfite pretreatment. An Aspen process simulation model is used to account for extractive-based air emissions, water emissions, and sugar impurities. Results from this project will complement NARA’s work to evaluate the role of sugar depots in a developing supply chain, and will inform communities regarding the expected emissions.

View the poster Tribal Communities Care About Effluents: Tracking Extractives, Inhibitors & reaction Products in Bisulfite Processing

TPP impacts NARA at multiple levels

Laurel James works with tribes to determine where gaps are in their knowledge and how NARA research can fill the void. At every step, NARA TPP provides education and new information to the tribal community, tribal leadership, government officials and tribal scientists. Through this process, NARA TPP also contributes data and outreach activities that supplement NARA’s goals on bioenergy literacy, rural economic development and establishing supply chain coalitions. Laurel recently provided an oral presentation about the NARA TPP at the NARA annual meeting in Seattle.

View Laurel James’ presentation Education and Tribes in the Pacific Northwest.


Knapp, L.G., Kelly-Reid, J.E., and Ginder, S.A. (2012). Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2011; Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2011; and Graduation Rates, Selected Cohorts, 2003–2008: First Look (Provisional Data) (NCES 2012-174rev). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved Nov. 5th from